By COLLIN BINKLEY
BOSTON (AP) — Harvard Law School soon will allow students to apply for admission using their scores from the GRE standardized test, a break from tradition that’s meant to draw a wider range of candidates to the school.
For decades, Harvard and other law schools have required students to take the Law School Admissions Test, known as the LSAT, to be considered. Other graduate programs often rely on the Graduate Record Examination, commonly called the GRE.
But as law schools across the nation work to attract students from different academic fields and from a wider variety of economic backgrounds, more are considering the GRE as a suitable alternative.
Harvard announced this week it will accept either test starting next fall as part of a pilot program. The move follows a recent study at the school that found the GRE can predict student success just as well as the LSAT.
“Harvard Law School is continually working to eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership,” Martha Minow, the school’s dean, said in a statement. “For many students, preparing for and taking both the GRE and the LSAT is unaffordable.”
The decision makes Harvard the second law school in the nation to accept the GRE. When the University of Arizona’s law school starting offering the option last year, the group that oversees the LSAT initially threatened to expel Arizona as a member. The group backed off after the deans of nearly 150 law schools wrote in support of Arizona.
After Arizona’s move, Kaplan Test Prep surveyed 125 law schools and found that only 14 percent had plans to accept the GRE, while 56 percent said they didn’t. The others said they weren’t sure.
But now that Harvard has done it, some experts say others are likely to follow.
“It’s a really big deal, and I think it could have a substantial ripple effect for other law schools,” said Bill Henderson, a professor at Indiana University’s law school who studies legal education. “When Harvard does it, the question becomes, ‘Why aren’t we doing it?'”
Jessica Soban, chief admissions officer at Harvard Law, said the change helps students who are considering graduate programs in other fields, such as computer science, but have an interest in law. Now they can apply to programs in both areas with the GRE.
“It seems like an artificial barrier or hurdle to require another standardized test,” Soban said.
Harvard also has taken other steps to expand its applicant pool in recent years, including the elimination of a financial deposit for students accepted to the school.
The accrediting arm of the American Bar Association doesn’t require the LSAT but says schools using an alternative must establish that it’s a “valid and reliable test” to gauge a student’s academic capability. The group is now reviewing possible changes to its rules governing admissions tests.